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15 Oscar-Nominated Actors Who Started Out on Soap Operas

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Daytime soap operas aren’t as popular as they used to be, but there was a time when soon-to-be movie stars regularly honed their skills with the kind of over-the-top emotional melodrama that you can only find on daytime television. Here are 15 of them.

1. TOMMY LEE JONES

From 1971 to 1975, Tommy Lee Jones played the suave Dr. Mark Toland on One Life to Live. Throughout his four-year run, Jones’s character became less stable and more evil, transforming from an affable M.D. to a shifty con artist. Dr. Toland was eventually shot in the head, freeing Jones up to pursue a career in movies like Coal Miner's Daughter, JFK, No Country for Old Men, and The Fugitive, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1994.

2. JULIANNE MOORE

In 1985, Julianne Moore got her big break on As The World Turns, where she played the dual role of half-sisters Frannie and Sabrina Hughes, and earned a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Ingenue in a Drama Series for her efforts in 1988. She left As The World Turns for a career on Broadway later that year. "I gained confidence and learned to take responsibility," Julianne Moore said of her time working in daytime television. She returned to As The World Turns in a very brief cameo appearance during the soap opera’s final season in 2010. Earlier this year, the five-time Oscar nominee became a bona fide Oscar winner for her work in Still Alice.

3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO

One year before he landed a recurring role on Growing Pains in 1991, Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on NBC's Santa Barbara. He played the young Mason Capwell in only one episode, but moved on to make appearances on Roseanne and the short-lived sitcom Parenthood. In 1993, DiCaprio landed his first two starring roles on the big-screen in This Boy's Life with Robert De Niro and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, which earned him his first of five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture as one of the producers of The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014.

4. WILLIAM H. MACY

While he started his acting career on the stage with playwright David Mamet, William H. Macy made an appearance on Another World in 1982. He played the character Frank Fisk and was credited as “W.H. Macy.” Macy later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for his breakout performance in Fargo.

5. MARISA TOMEI

After attending Boston University for only one year, Marisa Tomei landed a recurring role on As The World Turns in 1983. She played ditzy teen Marcy Thompson, who married a prince, Lord Stewart Cushing, and moved to England, where she became Lady Marcy Cushing. Tomei left As The World Turns in 1985 when she received a series regular role on the sitcom A Different World in 1987.

6. ELLEN BURSTYN

Although Ellen Burstyn began her acting career on Broadway in 1957, she also worked on television throughout the 1960s. She starred as Dr. Kate Bartok on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1964. At the time, she was credited as "Ellen McRae,” but changed her name when she married actor/writer Neil Burstyn. Since making the transition to films, Burstyn has received six Oscar nominations, beginning with 1971's The Last Picture Show and most recently for 2000's Requiem for a Dream (she won in 1975, for Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore)

7. JAMES EARL JONES

At age 35, James Earl Jones appeared as two separate doctors in two different daytime soaps in 1966. First he played Dr. Jerry Turner on As The World Turns and then he played Dr. Jim Frazier on Guiding Light. Five years later, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for The Great White Hope.

8. MELISSA LEO

Melissa Leo made her on-screen debut as Linda Warner on All My Children in 1984. Leo remained a cast member until 1988, when she took a role on the short-lived TV Western The Young Riders. Leo later pursued a career in film, where she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 2009 for Frozen River and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Fighter two years later. 

9. KEVIN KLINE

After establishing a traveling acting company during the early 1970s, Kevin Kline settled in New York City and appeared as the character Woody Reed on the now-defunct Search For Tomorrow on CBS in 1976. He later left the daytime soap for a career on Broadway and eventually on the big screen, where he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1989 for the comedy A Fish Called Wanda.

10. NAOMI WATTS

Naomi Watts’s career began on television in Australia during the early 1990s. She appeared in a number of sitcoms and commercials before landing a recurring role on the daytime soap Home and Away in 1991. Ten years later, she made her mark on Hollywood with her breakout role in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Since then, she has received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her work in  2003's 21 Grams and 2012's The Impossible.  

11. SUSAN SARANDON

At the beginning of her career, Susan Sarandon spent two years on two different daytime soaps. In 1971, she appeared as Patrice Kahlman on the short-lived A World Apart, then landed a role as Sarah Fairbanks on Search for Tomorrow the following year. She left daytime television to appear in Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of The Front Page in 1974 and played Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Picture Show a year later. Of the five Oscar nominations Sarandon has received throughout her career, she has won one: Best Actress in 1995's Dead Man Walking.

12. BRAD PITT

In 1987, Brad Pitt made a two-episode appearance as Chris, a basketball playing teen, on Another World. Later that year, he landed a meatier recurring role on the primetime soap Dallas. Brad Pitt eventually gained Hollywood stardom as J.D. in Thelma & Louise in 1991 and a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance as the deranged Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys in 1996. Of his five Oscar nominations, Pitt has only one once—in 2014 for Best Picture as a producer of 12 Years a Slave

13. MORGAN FREEMAN

During the early 1980s, Morgan Freeman appeared on two daytime soap operas before taking up a career in movies. In 1981, he played Cicero Murphy on Ryan’s Hope. The following year, he landed the role of Dr. Roy Bingham on Another World, where he remained for two years. Throughout his career, Freeman has been nominated for five Academy Awards; in 2005, he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby.

14. KATHY BATES

In 1977, Kathy Bates made her TV debut on The Doctors. In 1984, she appeared on All My Children as Erica Kane’s (Susan Lucci) cellmate Belle Bodelle. Though her stint on the latter was short, her story arc as a frightening and crazy prison inmate was memorable among fans—and might very well have prepared her for her Oscar-winning turn as Annie Wilkes in 1990's Misery.

15. ALEC BALDWIN

Before he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Cooler in 2003, Alec Baldwin started his professional acting career on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1980. He played Billy Aldrich, a character who was killed by two separate men, unbeknownst to each other, at the same time. Baldwin left The Doctors in 1982 and in 1984 landed a recurring role on the primetime soap Knots Landing.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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